By Jill Colvin, Associated Press
By Michael r. Sisak, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump denied Friday that he knew in advance about a Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 between a Russian lawyer, his eldest son and other campaign aides that had been convened to hear dirt on his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Trump tweeted, “NO,” he “did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr.” CNN reported Thursday Trump’s former longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, claims Trump knew in advance about the meeting. CNN cited anonymous sources saying Cohen was willing to share that information with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
A person familiar with the investigation confirmed the CNN report to The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
Cohen wasn’t at the Trump Tower meeting and Cohen has not offered evidence to support the claim that Trump knew about the meeting. He does not have any recordings of the meeting, the person said.
Trump’s team met with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, believing she had dirt on Clinton to share.
The Associated Press reported this week that Veselnitskaya worked more closely with senior Russian government officials than she previously let on, based on scores of emails, transcripts and legal documents that show her to be a well-connected attorney who served as a ghostwriter for top Russian government lawyers and received assistance from senior Interior Ministry personnel in a case involving a key client.
Trump, who in the past has denied knowing about the meeting before it happened, also shot back at Cohen, who was once so loyal to Trump that he said he’d take a bullet for his boss.
“Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam,” Trump tweeted, adding: “(Taxi cabs maybe?). He even retained Bill and Crooked Hillary’s lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice!”
Cohen, whose business dealings are being investigated by the FBI, has longtime dealings in the taxi industry and owns several medallions for New York City yellow cabs that allow them to pick up passengers on the street.
Cohen lawyer Guy Petrillo did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Cohen is under federal investigation in New York. The Justice Department has been investigating Cohen for months, raiding his home, office and hotel room in search of documents related to a $130,000 payment the attorney facilitated before the 2016 election to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress who says she had sex with Trump in 2006.
In an interview with ABC News earlier this month, Cohen declined to answer if Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting in advance, citing the advice of his lawyers and the ongoing investigation.
Trump also on Friday dismissed as “ridiculous” a report that Muller’s team is looking at Trump’s tweets as they investigate possible collusion and obstruction of justice.
Trump complained that he had returned from a trip Midwest Thursday “only to be greeted with the ridiculous news” that Mueller and his team “cannot find Collusion… so now they are looking at my Tweets (along with 53 million other people).”
“(T)he rigged Witch Hunt continues!” he complained, adding: “How stupid and unfair to our Country.”
Mueller is known to be scrutinizing Trump’s tweets about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former F.B.I. director James Comey. A list of potential questions for Trump compiled by the president’s legal team following conversations with investigators and released earlier this year made clear that Mueller is interested in some of Trump’s tweets to the extent they raise obstruction of justice concerns.